UK Web-browsing Copyright: Information Sharing Under Peril

Yesterday The Register published a piece on the urgency for the UK government to act on “innocent” web-browsing.

According to The Register, James Mackenzie, commercial director of UK-based media monitoring service Cutbot, told Out-Law.com that

businesses and internet users could both suffer if the government waits for the courts to interpret whether the act of browsing lawfully published web pages or circulating links to those pages is legitimate.
“If Parliament fails to act, ministers risk seeing the innocent browsing of the web criminalised and legitimate UK businesses being stifled,” Mackenzie said.

Out-Law.com reported a year ago that the Court of Appeal ruled that “users of a clippings service must have a licence from newspaper publishers to click on links taking them to newspaper website pages to avoid infringing the publishers’ copyrights.”

According to the Register article, before the Court of Appeal ruling in relation to the users of the Meltwater Group‘s news clipping service, Labour MP Fiona O’Donnell had proposed back on 12 July 2012 in a House of Commons committee session that amendments should be made to UK copyright law to explicitly enable internet users to make “any circulation” of a URL, its title, or

“of another web address that redirects to that web address […] where copyrighted material has been published at the permission of rights-holders without those acts infringing copyright.”

The MP for East Lothian’s draft amendment proposed that the act of downloading data required to view a web site containing copyrighted material “and any subsequent processing of that data, including processing for display, provided that it does not result in any publication elsewhere of the work or an adaptation of the work” should also be explicitly permissible.

The Register also points out that under current European Union copyright laws

“rights-holders are entitled to charge licence fees for temporary copies of copyrighted works. But the Copyright Directive also provides that rights-holders may not charge fees if those temporary copies are “an integral and essential part of a technological process whose sole purpose is to enable… a lawful use of a [copyright] work.” This is the only exception to copyright law that is mandatory and must be implemented by every European Union member state.”

In Mexico, in the context of the country’s signing of ACTA, this year a Congressman’s proposal [PDF] to amend Mexican copyright law that would have criminalised any “public communications” of  websites containing copyrighted material was luckily not followed up.

“Punching our weight: the humanities and social sciences in public policy making” [PDF], a report published by the British Academy in 2008, stated that

“The contribution to public policy making by HSS [humanities and social sciences] disciplines varies. Certain disciplines (such as economics, demography, geography and planning, psychology, law, business and management studies, ethics, religious studies, and sociology) can be direct – leading to changes in policy, practice or behaviour.”

Researchers whose work fully or partially depends on the production and reproduction of online information could make a direct contribution to UK copyright law reform. Higher Education in general and digital media/digital humanities scholars in specific should be paying attention to these debates, since they will undoubtedly have direct consequences in the legal frameworks in which online information is shared.

About Ernesto Priego

Course director of the #citylis Library and Information Science PG scheme and Lecturer in Library Science, City University London. Editor in chief of The Comics Grid: Journal of Comics Scholarship. Affiliated member of the UCL Centre for Digital Humanities. My research interests include LIS, digital humanities, comics scholarship, scholarly communications, open access, open data and open educational resources.

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